Scenic Driving Overview: Arches National Park
|Looking to the La Sals|
Arches National Park Highlights
- The scenic drive in Arches National Park is an 18-mile tour beginning at the visitor center and ending near the Devils Garden Campground. Major points of interest along this stretch are the Courthouse Towers, Tower of Babel, Balanced Rock, Garden of Eden, the Windows Section, Fiery Furnace, and Skyline Arch. Give yourself about three hours for this drive. It is a great introduction to the scenery of Arches.
- The Klondike Bluffs to Willow Flats Road is a 17-mile stretch of desert terrain passable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The route passes Eye of the Whale Arch and views of the Elephant Butte. You can either book a jeep tour or journey on your own in a rented, suitable four-wheel-drive vehicle.
- Go North on US 191 from Moab for three miles to get on UT 279. The Potash Scenic Byway is 34 miles round-trip and follows the Colorado River past Indian petroglyphs, dinosaur tracks, and plenty of arches including Jug Handle Arch. The road ends at the Moab Salt Plant.
- La Sal Mountain Scenic Route is a welcome respite from the hot canyon lands of the area. The route offers nice panoramas of the desert canyon as it climbs steeply into the mountains. The 60-mile loop starts six miles south of Moab on US 191 and then descends to Castle Valley, where it picks up with the UT 128. Going southwest on UT 128 will return you north of Moab on US 191.
- Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway will take you along UT 313 south from US 191 through spectacular red rock canyon country. The incredible scenery includes Seven Mile Canyon, Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, and views of the San Rafael Reef and Henry Mountains. When you reach Dead Horse State Park after about 14 miles, a fork in the road will either take you to the visitor center at Dead Horse State Park, or you can continue and end at the Grand View Point Overlook located within the Canyonlands National Park.
In the often harsh climate of southern Utah, not a few visitors find that seeing the desert from the comfort of their air-conditioned automobile is an acceptable compromise between experiencing the outdoors and being assailed by it. Fortunately, the thoughtful layout of the road system in Arches makes it possible for you to enjoy much of the park's natural grandeur, even if you have less than a day to spend there.
There is one major paved road in the park. It begins at the junction with UT 191 by the visitor center at the park's southern end and travels 21 miles to the Devils Garden Trailhead.
If you're only passing through and don't want to spend more than two hours in the park, take the main road about halfway, then turn right just after Balanced Rock. You will now be on a shorter, secondary paved road that leads to the Windows section of the park. Here you can view the North and South Windows, as well as Double Arch and Turret Arch.
Another possibility for a short excursion is to travel north a few more miles to another right turn; this road leads to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint, from which you can view the world's most famous arch. If you like, stop at Wolfe Ranch on your way back and imagine what it would have been like to homestead this relatively barren area in the late 1800s.
If you have more time, definitely drive the whole of the main park road as well as the previously described roads. Past the Delicate Arch Viewpoint turn-off, you will find the Fiery Furnance Overlook; farther on you'll come to Devils Garden Campground.
Beyond the park's paved roads, more adventurous drivers with vehicles up to the challenge can brave dirt roads through the park's barren backcountry. Just before the right-hand turn-off to the Windows section is a left turn that takes you west through Willow Flats. This road is suitable only for high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles. Beware: The section of road that crosses Courthouse Wash is often impassable due to flooding. The only way back is to turn around.
Another possibility is a left turn just before Broken Arch that takes you northwest through Salt Valley to Klondike Bluffs, about an eight-mile drive altogether. The Bluffs are home to Tower Arch and the Marching Men, neither of which you can see from the main road.
On any of these unpaved roads, soft sand is a pervasive hazard that could leave your car stranded. Always carry a lot of water, even if you don't plan to leave your car, and check at the visitor center for info on current road conditions before you head out. Do not go off-roading in Arches: Not only will you permanently damage the fragile desert ecosystem, but you could find yourself stuck in sand far from any means of communication, or worse, at the bottom of a canyon whose ledge you didn't see soon enough.
As Arches' popularity has increased, people have begun to park in areas that damage plants and sometimes endanger other visitors. Please park in established lots only. Generally, parking spaces are easier to find before 9 a.m. and after 7 p.m.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication